Criminologist Cheryl Willoughby is advising policymakers against legalizing marijuana, suggesting there is a link between use of the drug and violent behaviour being displayed by the island’s youth.
The director of the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit issued the caution while addressing parents at the monthly Parent Teachers Association meeting entitled Violence in Schools and Communities: Causes and Solutions, at the St Michael School on Thursday night.
“We recognized that the vast majority of juveniles coming to the attention of the police were actually high, so there is a correlation between marijuana use and aggression among our young people and we have to pick it up,” Willoughby said.
She disclosed that the illegal drug was being introduced to children as young as seven years old. Referencing a 2015 study on marijuana use in Barbados, which was conducted by her unit, Willoughby revealed that 15 per cent of secondary school students and 3.4 per cent of primary school students used marijuana.
The research officer said violence in schools had been steadily increasing over the last 15 to 20 years, but the alarming prevalence was only now being highlighted because of social media.
“What we are seeing is of no surprise to us. Our research is showing that assaults, wounding and violent crimes are on the increase, not only within the school system but on the level of the country in general,” she said.
“You must understand that the values we are seeing now, that results from what we are actually seeing in our communities. . . . The school is a microcosm of the community and therefore it will filter into our school system.”
Amidst calls for legalization of marijuana, Willoughby cautioned Barbados against following the examples of North America and Jamaica, as going that route came at the cost of ruining the lives of countless young people.
“I am of the belief that anytime you implement a policy anywhere within your local environment, you have to give it three to five years to see the effects . . . . Are we willing to gamble with our young people for five years to determine if something is going to work?
“I say let us see the mistakes of others before we jump into the forum. Let us wait and evaluate what is happening, not only in our region but outside of our region, to determine if that is the way we want to go. If we want to look at it from an economic perspective, we have to ask ourselves if our children’s lives are worth an extra two or three million dollars a year,” she said.
Willoughby further pointed out that the Office of the Attorney General had recognized an increase in the number of young people using crack cocaine. Describing the situation as “worrying”, she indicated that as more individuals became poly-drug users – with marijuana and crack cocaine their drugs of choice – it was causing a problem for the island’s criminal justice system.
“Ten years ago, it was mainly marijuana that was the drug of choice . . . but we are seeing a steady increase in the use of cocaine among our young people,” Willoughby said.
Meantime, the director of the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit has called for education about the dangers of illegal drugs to start early – not from the secondary school stage as is the case currently, but from the time an expectant mother begins prenatal care.
“I cannot advocate that we start the education at . . . secondary school level. This has to start at the level of the polyclinics where mothers who come for prenatal care can be educated about marijuana use and what they should look for and do as parents,” she emphasized.
“Parents, we have a responsibility to pick up, to diagnose, to know when our children are involved in any level of drug use.”
Also participating in the discussion was president of the Barbados National Council of Parent Teacher Associations, Shone Gibbs, who called for parents to be held accountable for negligence.
“What we are seeing in the schools is a result of the seeds we have sown,” he said. “These problems are right on our doorstep. Who can make a difference? Parents!”